Steven Cramer


From now on, simply aim your nose
at whatever you wish to see clearly,

said the optician. Aiming his nose at me,

he fitted new frames to my temples
then sketched the concept of progressives:
two circles with an hourglass in each,

the lower field for literature, life on top.
Some of what he didn't say includes:
floors constantly awash as if rain-swept;

late-day dumbness, mid-skull; an urge to tuck
my head into my chest, doubling my chin—
each a glimpse of unhurried mortality,

the ghost in the corner of the eye.
Reading a long-lined poem, I've found
I must shake my head slightly, the way

we listen to a friend's tale of woe or weal
(broken timing-belt, biopsy finally benign),
empathy shading to impatience, with a mote

of regret at how rarely we're actually tragic
or even tragicomic, as in the Fool's riddle
to Lear: thou canst tell why one's nose stands

i' th' middle on's face? As for Lear,
knucklehead this joke's meant to instruct,
he learns, too late, it's to keep one's eyes

of either side's nose, that what a man cannot
smell out, he may spy into.
As for me,
it's early yet: will the pupils adjust,

and vision grow indivisible again?
As for my reading, for now I'll stick
with wheelbarrow-era Williams, or Oppen,

anything with more depth than width.
I'll practice keeping an eye on me later:
searching for my glasses, or the receipt

required for the rebate on the frames—
even down on my knees, nosing around
the garbage, always the last place we look.

Steven Cramer is the author of four poetry collections: The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987), The World Book (1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997), and Goodbye to the Orchard, to be published in 2004 by Sarabande Books. His poems and criticism have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, Partisan Review, Poetry, and Triquarterly; as well as in The POETRY Anthology, 1912-2002. Recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he has taught literature and writing at Bennington College, Boston University, M.I.T., Tufts University, and in low-residency MFA program at Queens University, Charlotte. He is currently Program Coordinator for the low-residency MFA program in creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge. He lives with his wife, Hilary, and their two children, Charlotte and Ethan, in Lexington, Massachusetts.